Nearly a decade ago, “American Idol” crowned a sweet Texas crooner named Kelly Clarkson as its first winner.
A magical moment like that can never be replicated, kicking off a program that defined the first decade of this century on TV. Clarkson herself has taken the crown, bronzed it in her own special way and has never looked back.
Five albums into an extraordinary career, Clarkson came to the Fabulous Fox Theatre with more than 11 million copies sold and far more hits than she could fit into a 90-minute, 19-song concert. That, my friends, is a good problem to have.
Despite her star status, she sounded genuinely thankful when she acknowledged a full room of adoring fans. She didn’t pretend she could dance. (Her stage moves remain comically limited but altogether natural e.g. her signature bounce when she hits a chorus, arm lifted in the air.) She joked about her dexterity compared to one of her bandmates doing yoga that morning. She laughed how she funnels her pain into songs like “Never Again” and “Because of You” during the encore.
The most surprising moment came when she brought season one finalist Tamyra Gray on stage for a duet of Whitney Houston’s “Exhale (Shoop Shoop)” Watch it below:
Gray had been coincidentally working at a local 14th Street Playhouse play “Our Time Has Come.” She had a scheduled day off on the night of Clarkson’s concert. I had informed her of the concert a week ago and she immediately planned to go. Obviously, she did and I didn’t realize she might even end up on stage. (She also Tweeted earlier this week that she had dropped out of the play. I’m not sure what happened there.)
Clarkson, compared to many celebrities of her ilk, hasn’t been embroiled in many tabloid imbroglios but she opened the show with headlines critiquing her weight, her sexual orientation, her sales, et. al. before opening with “Dark Side.”
Nobody’s picture perfect
But we’re worth it
Indeed, Clarkson is well worth it. Her vocals sounded a bit rough early on. She even skipped the climactic high notes on her second and third songs of the night, “Behind These Hazel Eyes” and “Since U Been Gone.” But over time, her voice got stronger. She was saving her vocal bullets for later, hitting all her notes on “My Life Would Suck Without You” and her current hit “Stronger.”
Her most bracing performances were her ballads (”Already Gone,” “Because of You”) and a heart-rending “Heavy In Your Arms,” a cover of a Florence + the Machine song. I get the impressions she wishes she could do more songs like that herself. She also did a lovely cover of Carrie Underwood’s “I Know You Won’t.”
The staging was simple. She has never been big on gimmicks. Her one attempt at something a bit unusual backfired: for her No. 1 duet “Don’t You Wanna Stay” with Jason Aldean, she had a 30-foot tall version of him telecast onto a curtain singing his portion of the duet. The problem. The audio and video were not synced. After the first chorus, the tech folks simply made Aldean’s image disappear.
I’ve seen her five other times live to date and she has never disappointed: the “Idols Live” tour in 2002, her first visit to the Fox Theatre in 2005, Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre in 2007 (all blog entries from that year are gone so I can’t link to it), the Loft (for a Q100 Christmas concert) in 2009, Centennial Olympic Park in 2011 (for a Coca Cola 125th anniversary celebration). I only missed her concert with Clay Aiken back in 2004 at Gwinnett Center.
Even as “Idol” struggles in its middle age in the face of copycats, Clarkson is an original whose career illuminates on her own terms.
Here are some other photos I took:
By Rodney Ho, Radio & TV Talk